Over spring break, roughly 40 undergraduates and graduate students were notified that they would be hired as the first class of Yale CS50 teaching staff.
This coming weekend, the new staff will participate in a seven-hour training session. A motion made at a November faculty meeting allows the course, denoted as CPSC 100, to be the exception to a University-wide rule that says undergraduates cannot function in any teaching fellow-like capacity. The motion, made by the Teaching Fellow Program Working Group committee, reads that the course is operating on an experimental basis for three years and must be renewed by faculty at that time.
Though the application process referred to the position as teaching fellows, which is the label they are given at Harvard, the administration has insisted on calling them “undergraduate learning assistants.” According to Pamela Schirmeister, the dean of strategic initiatives for Yale College, the Graduate School and Faculty of Arts and Sciences, that language distinction is crucial to ensuring that undergraduates are not working as teaching assistants during exam and reading periods. By not going by the same names, they do not need to fulfill the same requirements.
But computer science professor Brian Scassellati, who will teach CPSC 100, said that though he is “not concerned with labeling,” he believes that students will think of those undergraduate and graduate students who lead sections, grade assignments, hold office hours and help teach them the basics of computer science as their CS50 TAs. However, he clarified that “if you want to be precise though, there is no such thing as a ‘CS50 TA.’ There is not even a ‘CS50.’ ”
Schirmeister said in an email that it is important that ULAs are not performing precisely the same roles as the average Yale teaching fellow, even if the job activities overlap in some respects. Because undergraduates have their own papers to write and exams for which to prepare during the reading and exam periods, they will not be asked to grade during those times.
In a Feb. 20 email to computer science faculty, Schirmeister corrected faculty on their use of “teaching fellow” instead of “undergraduate learning assistant.”
“It’s important that there be no confusion about this issue,” the last line of the email read.
Scasselati and Jason Hirschhorn, a longtime CS50 teaching fellow senior from Harvard College who is leading the teaching staff at Yale, said that there would be no hierarchical difference between the graduate students functioning as TFs and ULAs, as they are all working on the same team. The motion states that the ULAs are only allowed to report to the faculty member advising them.
ULAs are not allowed to grade during finals or reading periods while TFs can grade during this time period.
Although there are payment differences handled by the administration, all teaching staff members will go through the same training, Scassellati said.
While graduate students are paid stipends with the understanding that the stipend covers all aspects of their graduate training, the ULAs are paid on an hourly basis to perform a job, Schirmeister said. She added that teaching is an integral part of graduate student training, while undergraduates are not being paid as part of professional training.
Schirmeister said she was unsure of where the name ULA originated, but because of the distinctions made between ULAs and the average TF, she said she thinks it is logical to label the positions differently.
But Scassellati added that CS50 teaching staff have been working with the Center for Teaching and Learning to establish special training courses on rules about the ULAs interacting with their students and dealing with potential conflicts of interest. For example, no ULAs will be allowed to lead a section with their significant other in it.
Hirschhorn said it is still too early to tell how the Yale teaching staff will create a different culture from the teaching staff at Harvard.
Since few Yale students have experienced CS50 before, the training will be slightly different and more intense than it is at Harvard, Hirschorn said.
“We want to do the best job in training everyone,” Hirschhorn said.
Hirschorn said 40 staff members is only a working number of staff members. If the high class enrollments at Harvard are any indication, the Yale CPSC 100 course may need to hire more staff members.